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Cliffhanger - Not To Be Or Not To Be CD (album) cover





3.35 | 41 ratings

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3 stars Abolutely frustrating listening experience!

On the one hand, despite its largely derivative nature (the Genesis-laden "Innocent Victim," "The Artist," and "Ragnarok"; the Crimso-Yes instrumental "Sewers"; the pseudo-classical Moody Blues-ish "Moon"), there is some truly wonderful - even excellent - creativity, arrangement and musicianship going on here. On the other hand, this is almost without question the most poorly engineered, mixed and mastered prog-rock album I have heard: the vocals are way too far back in the mix, the bottom disappears when it is most needed (particularly the end of Ragnarok, which simply screams for booming Moog Taurus pedals); and the mix itself is all wrong. Blame for this can be shared by the engineer (who did a horrible job) and the band (whom one assumes "okayed" this mix).

The problems most seriously affect Ragnarok, a 25-minute epic that, with a bit of editing and the type of production the band was clearly reaching for (but missed by far too much), could easily have been mentioned in the same breath as Supper's Ready (or at very least Firth of Fifth, Cinema Show or any other Genesis epic). This stunning track is about two huge Nordic battles. Some of the sections are excellent, particularly the first pre-battle section (8:50-11:00), the first battle section (11:00-12:45) - which has one of the neatest, spookiest uses of mellotron I've ever heard - the second pre-battle section (12:45-14:00), and the second battle section (14:00-16:45). Also beautifully handled is the post-battle section (16:45 to about 21:00). The music for the battle sections is so appropriate that it really does conjure up images of sword-swinging warriors. The opening and closing sections are a tad self-indulgent, and could have benefitted from some trimming. But that is a minor quibble. Indeed, as noted, had the suite been just slightly more cohesive and well-edited, it would have qualified as a MAJOR prog-rock achievement. Even so, it is a valiant attempt, and largely successful.

The other compositions are good, with "The Artist" being the stand-out track, and, indeed, one of the best new prog compositions I've heard by anyone (despite the bad engineering). "Sewers" is a well-constructed instrumental, and arguably the most "successful" composition from a production point of view. "Moon" is a beautiful string synth-mellotron-piano piece that closes the album in a gorgeous, mellow way.

Even with the production problems, the album is a credible achievement for a neo-prog band. Indeed, had the production been as good as it might have been, and had the band done just a tad more editing, this album would certainly have rated four stars - perhaps 4.5. Still, it is worth a listen if only to be wistful about what it might have been.

maani | 3/5 |


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